PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has warned the nation that if the current COVID-19 infection rate continues, the parallel health system would be overwhelmed within days.
In an address to the Nation on Thursday night, Dr. Rowley retraced the events of the last two years of the COVID-19 virus, noting that recent figures here show that Trinidad and Tobago is facing a “critical crisis’ regarding the pandemic and "based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases over the past weeks, and with no decrease in sight, the number of deaths has continued to increase with dozens of persons losing their lives on a daily basis."
He said that if the current trends continue, the parallel health care system will be overwhelmed in a matter of days and "as such, this will manifest in our inability to provide care, not only to our COVID-19 patients but to our other patients accessing general medical care and emergency care.
Rowley pointed to the actions of several other countries which included protracted lockdowns, curfews, restrictions on the unvaccinated, enforced vaccinations, and incentives for vaccinations.
"I mention these situations and decisions so that if it ever gets to the point where we have to adopt any of these additional measures, it will not be because we are incompetent, arrogant, dictatorial or anti-democratic. It would simply mean that our situation demands it and we do live on planet earth where COVID-19 is attempting to reign predominate," Rowley said.
The latest figures released by the Ministry of Health showed that 2,040 people have died and 68,288 others have been infected with the virus since March last year.
Rowley said that “now is not the time to concede defeat and appealed to people to get vaccinated against the virus, particularly since it has now emerged of a new variant of the pandemic that experts have described s B.1.1.529, as “the worst one we’ve seen so far”, and amid concerns it has the potential to evade immunity.
“We must not lower our guard, but instead commit to fight the scourge with everything at our disposal, not the least of which are the vaccines we have and the personal responsibility we must adopt,” Rowley said.
“The virus has pushed back and today we must stand and hold the line. Our frontline soldiers buckled under the strain of 19 months of constant battle, our resources are being steadily depleted as people continue to fall ill, require increased hospitalization and lose their lives to the relenting onslaught of the virus,” he said.
“I want to re-emphasize that we intend to continue fighting this virus, while fighting to preserve our key economic activities which we need to maintain livelihoods. We will try to prevent to prevent devastating restrictions and will resort to such measures only as a last resort when all else become impotent.
Rowley revealed that the country spent over half a billion dollars to acquire the requisite vaccines and he bemoaned the dip in vaccinations numbers.
"Unfortunately, it seems that we have been desensitized and the population is no longer stirred to wise action by this alarming trend. There is little change in public behaviour and attitude as well as a drastic reduction in the rate of vaccination, even in the face of increasing COVID-19 deaths," he said.
Despite the rising COVID-19 numbers and the fact that today is the deadliest day on record with a staggering 31 people who succumbed to the virus, the Prime Minister maintained that the country would not go back into lockdown mode. The announcement allayed the majority of fears expressed on social media.
"We will continue to keep our economy open. There have been a number of demands for further opening up of the few areas which are still under restrictions," he said.
However, for now, beaches and rivers will remain closed. "Much as I would like to open up beaches and rivers, as I wanted to do a few weeks ago, the current situation militates against that," he said.
"I did say earlier that I am hoping that we could open beaches for Christmas. I’m still on that,' however, he urged that with Christmas around the corner, the citizens must be careful not to let customary seasonal gatherings "push us over the edge."
The Prime Minister tonight noted that Carnival 2022 would be on, but the look will be very different as there would be no street parade or gathering for unvaccinated people. However, there would be designated safe zones for vaccinated people to gather for events.
"We have already signalled to the population that we are escalating the emergency response levels in the public health care system and have alerted supporting agencies of the potential need for reinforcements. We would do well to ponder on what the next phase of the COVID-19 response might look like if we continue on this trajectory," he warned.
"As with any emergency response, as the demand on health care resources increases, we may have no choice but to redirect our efforts from providing the highest level of care to a few, to providing the greatest good for the greatest number of persons. This is the reality that we face," he said.
The Prime Minister urged citizens to “avoid a funeral for Christmas” as the country recorded increased cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) including a record 31 deaths on Thursday.
“Diligent and pre-empt steps have been taken to ensure that WHO [World Health Organization] approved vaccines are available for the population,” he said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago has received in excess of 1.9 million vaccines of which 1.28 million have been administered.
But he said that the figures were still low and according to the ministry, 639, 486 people have been fully vaccinated to date and 16, 684 have received an additional third boost.
“The government of Trinidad and Tobago has taken every available measure to ensure that we safeguard our population from the virus. Significant expenditure was incurred to implement all the listed polices (and) as of September 2021, we spent TT$509.7 million on the national COVID-19 response,” Rowley said, adding that disappointingly the pandemic “continues to present serious challenges that most countries all over the world are struggle with even with the assistance of widespread vaccination”.
“Unfortunately it seems we have become de-sensitized and the population is no longer stirred to wise action by this alarming trend. There is little change in public behaviour and attitude as well as a drastic reduction in the rate of vaccination even in the face of increasing COVID-19 deaths.
“There is also a lot of information that many persons hid their conditions, refuse to be tested or isolate when they know they are sick,” he said, adding “this is exactly the environment in which the virus will thrive and show up in our intractable daily numbers and our overflowing hospital wards.
“I tonight appeal to families to support one another and help out so that infected members can isolate to reduce the chances of the virus spreading among family members and the general public. Quarantine works, vaccines work, mask wearing and sanitizing work, adopt them to save a life”.
Rowley said that country enters the Christmas Season he was appealing for people to adopt the health regulations and while the government would have wanted to re-open beaches as soon as possible, it would continue to monitor the situation “for the next couple of weeks” still hoping to have limited beach access before Christmas.
“Very soon, the Christmas Season and its festivities will be upon us. We will want to have a good Christmas but we must be particularly careful to not let that Christmas be the event that pushes us over the edge,” Rowley said, urging that all health requirements be adopted and celebrations take place within safe zones.
“Aim to celebrate in safe zones. What I am saying is get your family protected by vaccination. Protect your elderly and comorbid members from you. Try and avoid a funeral for Christmas,” he said.